A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

Why do communications fail?

Marshall McLuhan (June 15, 1964, age 52).  That’s a good question.

I’m constantly amazed that anyone at any time can communicate anything to anyone else.  This morning, for example, Corinne asked me, “Do you think this dress makes me look fat?”

“What do you mean?” said I.

“Just what I said.”

“What was that?”


That I think is pretty typical of conversations between married couples.  And yet It seems to me that most of us assume that most of the time when we are communicating we are actually communicating even though, of course, we’re doing nothing of the sort.  The better assumption to make if you want to communicate is to assume you’ll be misunderstood.  Must run, I’m being interviewed at the CBC in 30 minutes.  I wonder where my lucky jacket is?

“Corinne?  Do you know where my tartan jacket is?

“The red or the green?

“The red, of course.”

“In the closet, on the right.”

“It’s not there.”

“Marshall, if I come up and find it hanging there.”

“Never mind.  I’ll find it myself.”


Me (February 2010, age 57).  That’s a good answer.

What if you began every conversation with the assumption that it was highly unlikely that you would be able to get your message across instead of the assumption that it was highly likely that your message would be understood?  You might want to keep a mental diary today, I know I will, to keep note of the number of successful and unsuccessful conversations you have – successful meaning understood and unsuccessful meaning misunderstood.  So far, as I write this, it’s early in the day and I’m 1 for 2.

Are misunderstandings more or less likely at home or at work?  In which setting are you more likely to assume you will be understood?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p.303

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Michael Hinton Saturday, March 6th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

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